Tuesday 31 January 2012

Love is in the air with Love Hearts

Get your retro romantic on this Valentines with Swizzels Matlow.

500 Love Heart mini rolls
Love Hearts are a national institution are they not?  Remember giggling at school over the cryptic messages, the twang on the tongue of the sherbety taste?

As an enterprising sixth-former, me and some friends fleeced everyone in the common room set up a valentine's messaging service one year.  We made the infamous red 'love box' where spotty faced teenagers could post anonymous notes on heart shaped papers, then charged 50p each to wrap said note around a tube of Love Heart Sweets and deliver them to the appropriate pigeon-hole. Dragon's Den eat your heart out!

My brother and sister-in-law had personalised Love Hearts as their wedding favours, and I've kept onto mine as a memento of the day.

Did you know that 2.75 billion Love Hearts are produced every year - that's enough to reach one and a half times around the globe!

Love hearts have branched out and you can now buy all sorts of merchandise through their online shop and try their fun online test to see how compatible you and your partner are.

This year, they are launching some new products in time for Valentines.

This adorable keepsake tin filled with sweets is one of the new range.  Boys - there isn't a girl I know who doesn't love tins!

A limited run of 100,000 of these vintage style tins have been made and they will be available nationwide priced at only £1.99 while stocks last.  Fill your boots.

This new tube containing 10 mini rolls of love hearts will also be available priced at only £1.

And the 4 pack of giant love hearts costs £1.09.  At these kind of prices there's really no excuse to forget a Valentine gift.

Disclosure: I was sent a small sample of products for the purposes of this review.

Ruby's 'New' Dress

Have you checked out what's happening over at Mummy's Busy World lately?  A fabulous link-up showing off your kid's style, rocking their outfits.

I'm joining in this week, with a creation of my own - style's about attitude not how much money you spend, right?

So, if you read my Magpie Monday post yesterday, you'll know I got this dress with a beautiful floral pattern. It's not Liberty but the style reminds me of their gorgeous designs and it feautres spring-time flowers - purple violets and yellow blooms on a forest green background.  Pop over to yesterday's post to see how much I paid for it!!

Here it is laid out with one of Ruby's current dresses, for scale.

I set about it with my scissors, and using a very simple pattern by McCalls which I used previously on her strawberry print dress, I turned it from a size 18 lady's smock, to a dress for a 4 year old.

I removed the patch pockets and re-attached them.  Super simple, the only slightly tricky bit was the bias binding on the neckline and arm holes, but it's only my second clothing make and I managed it with no puckering - yay!

Then I made her a matching hair clip, in the same way as I'd made the felt heart one.  This time I used a scrap of green leather and some of the dress fabric (bondawebbed first to stop it fraying).

She stole my green scarf too!

I was sorting my craft stuff out and came across a bag of leather scraps which were given to me by our cobbler.  A brilliant shoemaker, he was a great personality and the only person my old man would trust with his beloved Church's brogues.  I read in the paper this weekend he sadly passed away, so this is my little homage to him.

He gave us some great tips for prolonging the life of our shoes, which I'll pass on to you:

  • Always store with wooden shoe trees - preferably cedar wood which has anti bacterial properties
  • Don't wear the same pair for 2 days running to give them a chance to recover
  • Don't wear your best shoes for driving as you'll get uneven heel wear

Anyhow, I digress, but I wanted to say Dio vi benedica Mario.

So, what do you think of my creation? Too cool for school?

Ruby's wearing:

Dress and Hairclip - handmade
Green Long sleeved T shirt - Tesco
Bottle Green tights - H&M
Purple Leather Boots - Bo-Belle from Angels & Urchins


This blog post is part of the Thrifty families blog carnival over at Family Budgeting pop on over!

Monday 30 January 2012

Re-kindle romance with these energy saving tips

Now you all know what a die-hard romantic I am (no sniggering at the back!).  I'm planning a romantic evening in on Valentine's this year - our last as unmarrieds hopefully.

Not only can you get all lovey-dovey, but if you're smart, you can use it as the perfect excuse to save energy, be greener and save some money too - that's bound to get the old man's heart a-flutter.

So, here's my tips for an energy saving Valentine's:

1. Take a bath together.

Not a new idea I'll grant you, but perfect for a little romance.  Did you know that 66% of the UK's water is used in the bathroom.  The average bath uses 85 litres of water, so if you can hop in together, that's a lot of hot water saved.  Better still, share a shower - showers use only 10 litres per minute, so as long as you're not in there all night, this could save even more off your water heating bill.

Pour a couple of glasses of wine, light some candles and have some big fluffy towels ready.

If it doesn't spoil the mood completely, chuck in your laundry after you get out for a soak to reduce washing time in the machine - ok, that might be hard to do discreetly without ruining the romance!

2.  Ditch the switch and use candles.

Candle light is synonymous with romance, creating a soft glow and making everyone look more attractive...

Try eating your Valentine's meal without the lights, and leave the bedroom light off in favour of scented candles.  Draw the curtain for added cosiness and to keep the warmth in

3. Moonlit stroll.

Leave off the telly, forget the DVD.  Save on heating and lighting bills at home by wrapping up in hats & scarves and taking an evening stroll together.  You don't need a dog to go for a walk.  Enjoy the moonlight, spend time talking and get some fresh air.

4. Real flames.

The rise in fuel bills has brought about the resurgence of solid fuel fires.  Undoubtedly real fires are more romantic, but for the most energy efficiency use a wood burning stove rather than an open fire.  Because of the efficient way a stove burns wood, you get about 4 times as much heat from a log burnt on a log burner than from an open fire.  The fuel is free or low cost, and it's carbon neutral because of the CO2 captured when the wood was a tree.

5. Bedtime.

Not only do electric blankets use energy, they can potentially be dangerous - 5,000 home fires a year are cause by faulty electric blankets.  Has that dampened your ardour?

If you feel the cold in bed, far better to use a hot water bottle or pop some extra covers on the bed.

Better still, snuggle up and make your own electricity.

This blog post is part of the Thrifty families blog carnival over at Family Budgeting pop on over!

Magpie Monday - Jumble Sailing

Joy of joys, a local jumble sale advertised in the paper.  It's years since we've been to a jumblie and I was practically having palpitations at the thought.

We used to go often, the thrill of picking up an absolute bargain for 10p, rummaging through the mounds piled high on trestle tables, dodging the elbows and braving the gnats-pee tea in the village hall.  However, jumble sales and small children don't really mix - they tend to either get lost in the throng, or announce very loudly "Mummy I'm BORED and it SMELLS in here".

But, this Saturday we braved it, and I'm glad we did.  It wasn't an exceptional sale, but I came away happy with my little haul.

I got two plain cotton shirts and a lovely spring-time print dress which I will probably make bunting from.  Although, looking at the dress now, I really like the pattern, so I might see if I can down-scale it and make a smock dress for Ruby.  10p each.

After my success with the orange velour top, I grabbed this royal blue velour dress.  I've seen a beautiful child's play cape on Pinterest and finger's crossed there's enough fabric here to replicate it.  I've already decapitated the bodice from the skirt part of the dress.  Also 10p.

All this lot went straight on a long wash cycle when we got in, and I left it out drying on Saturday night while me and the old man went to the pictures.  My legendary mother-in-law had ironed it all while babysitting, which was lovely of her - but I feel I really must explain to her that I have never, nor will ever wear these garments.  What must she think?!

Ruby was delighted with this pink furry jacket for her Barbie doll, also 10p.

I feel it's important for her to have positive female role models, don't ya think?

Doing a final sweep before leaving, one things had thinned out, I saw two stoneware pots on the bric-a-brac table.  I enquired the price and was told £1 each.  In hindsight, I realise I was being particularly measly, but £1 seemed so out of kilter with all the other 10p sales, that I didn't want to pay that much.  I stood mute for a moment, and she said I could have them both for £1.50 and then proceeded to try and explain how to salt runner beans in them.  Bless her, there isn't a chance in hell I'll salt runner beans, I wanted these to perk up my study window sill.

So tell me, where else could you have as much fun for £2?

What 2nd hand gems have you been hunting out?

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Sunday 29 January 2012

Record every moment of your pregnancy & birth

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along to the launch of The Day Baby Was Born, a great new free service by Tommee Tippee.

The day baby was born allows parents-to-be to capture every special moment of the journey, from when you first discover you're expecting, up until baby is born.

I wish I'd had something like this when I was pregnant with Ruby.  I had every intention of keeping a diary, recording the first kick, making notes of the times I sent the old man out at 11pm in search of Creme Eggs and Dr Pepper...

I'd intended to keep a newspaper detailing events of the special day, but Ruby didn't come along til 11.30pm and to be honest, that was the last thing on my mind!  I had plans to buy a copy of the No 1 single, and keep a note of the weather when she was born...

If this service had been around then, I could have done it all digitally as well as sharing the news via Facebook.

The clever site allows you to link with Facebook, and choose what you want to share on your wall with friends and family.  It can capture comments too and add them into your digital scrapbook.  You can use it to make your birth announcements and capture people's reactions - as well as cleverly allowing you to filter comments. Don't we all have someone in our families who'll say something inappropriate?!!

It also links with external news and data feeds so you can capture a record of events that are meaningful for you on that special day - whether it's the football results; the news headlines; the stocks and shares or celebrity gossip.

You can start your digital scrapbook at any point in the pregnancy, but the earlier you do it, the fuller a record you'll have, and the more features you'll be able to make use of.  You'll get email reminders too so there's no excuse for forgetting to keep it up to date!  It's totally secure and YOU get to decide what or if you want to share it on your Facebook page.

Take a look at the site to get started, or see a sample book to learn how it works.

Disclosure: I attended a launch event and received a goody bag.  No financial reward was received and views expressed here are my own.

Friday 27 January 2012

Are we nearly there yet? Book review and giveaway

The term 'Laugh out Loud' is oft overused these days.  It's lost it's meaning.  But in the true sense of the expression, it can be applied to Ben Hatch's book by the bucket-load.

Not only did I laugh, but I laughed til there were tears rolling down my face. Til my sides were aching. Til my other half poked his head round the door and asked "what's going on?".

Are we nearly there yet tells of the journey of Ben, his wife and their two pre-school children, who embark on an epic round Britain trip reviewing child-friendly visitor attractions for a guide book.  There are moments of madness, where I've secretly planned a similar kind of last yahoo before Ruby starts school.  However, one short trip in the car to the supermarket usually brings me back to my senses.

Apart from the obvious hilarity, I warmed to this book instantly because the family were so familiar.  Phoebe is exactly the same age as my own daughter, and has much the same personality.  As the grown ups, Ben and his wife clearly love each other deeply (you'd have to to be with someone 24/7 for 6 months).  The relationship between Ben and his wife Dinah is clearly one of a couple who fit like a comfy worn in pair of slippers.  I mean that in the nicest possible way.  They share a history, they know what each other is thinking, they are capable of insane arguments about the most meaningless issues, and their not averse to a bit of good old-fashioned affectionate name calling - just like me and the old man.

For a male author (sweeping generalisation alert) I was quite un-nerved by Ben's insightful writing about his wife.  After a disagreement and a bit of sulking, he reflects how Dinah does that barely noticeable slightly slower walk to make it look like he's storming off.  How she lowers her voice ever so slightly to make it appear that he's the one shouting.  Hell, I didn't even realise I did that, but I do!

As well as the car journey, Ben embarks on an emotional voyage.  His father falls ill at the beginning of the trip and this leads to a battle of emotions - pride; resentment; rebellion; admiration; love; and regret.  The descriptions of his father on his sick bed moved me to tears as much as the comic scenes.

There are so many passages I could recount for you, but I don't want to spoil the read.  If you've got young kids, had young kids or know young kids, this is a must read.  Seek it out.  Its available on Kindle too at only 99p currently.

I have one paperback copy to give away so read on.

Ben is a big fan of Twitter, so it's great to be able to chat to him there.  After reading this book I feel like I know him.  There's certainly much 'sharing' going on in the novel and i feel as though I know him a little too well.  He was also kind enough to give me an interview...

It was clearly a massive leap of faith to pack up your home and leave your friends and extended family behind for 6 months.  What were you most nervous about before setting off?

Ben: The kids were 3 and 1. Charlie was in nappies, still having formula and we’d set ourselves this incredibly ambitious target of visiting almost 1000 family-friendly attractions. We’d have to stay in a different hotel almost every night and we were visiting every single town and city in the country. To be honest if I’d known we’d be driving 8,000 miles we’d never have gone. Neither my wife nor I slept the night before. I’d have been less scared if we’d going on an Apollo mission. It was also the fact we’d rented out the house. If we hadn’t done that I’m sure we’d have given up. My brother predicted that either my wife or I would come home chopped up in a bin-bag in the roof-box. We did have arguments along the way. We even managed a big one about which type of owl was best – tawny or barn. But I think I was most worried the kids would hate it. But they didn’t. To them it was a great adventure.

I'm often guilty of over-sharing on Twitter and my blog. Hilarious as it was, do you think the toothbrush incident was a step too far? Is nothing sacred?

Ben: It was not in the original manuscript actually. I only included it at the last moment during the rushed editing process. I think if I had included at the outset it would have cut. I knew it was massively embarrassing but I thought it was funny as well, so I included it. For some people it’s a bridge too far on taste grounds. For others it’s their favourite sequence of the book. I don’t have a problem with writing about it because in my mind I have a sort of switch that I flick when I write something compromising. The switch means I can tell myself I didn’t really say that and that nobody really read that. I’m pressing it right now as I’m talking to you. This isn’t happening. We aren’t talking about this. I have no idea what toothbrush you’re not talking about. He stuck it where?.....

Do you think Phoebe and Charlie absorbed any of the history, science and geography of Britain on the trip, or did they learn other life lessons?

Ben: They learned nothing at all as far as I can tell. We imagined before we set off they’d come back so steeped in culture that one of them would probably end up the chairman of the Arts Council or something. We held that viewed up until the night when Phoebe wet herself in the Shakespeare Birthplace Museum, the same day and I lost the key to the roof-box containing Charlie’s nappy changing stuff meaning we had to change him on a bench in the rain outside Anne Hathaway’s cottage using 3 KFC Lemonfresh wipes. If they learnt anything though it was to be good friends with each other. They spent all that time with each other and as a result came to rely on each other’s company. They’re very, very close now. Much closer than other siblings we know with children the same age.

How did the kids settle in back once you got back home?

Ben: Well they don’t like driving much. They hate all long trips. Our daughter has also unexpectedly, or perhaps as defensive measure against future trips, developed car sickness. She vomits now during any journey over 20 miles on any non-straight road. We’ll probably hear about the other affects through their therapists in 20 years time.

I can't wait to catch up on what you've all been up to.  When's the next book out?

Ben: I am in the process of writing it now. Not sure when it’ll be out. But thanks for asking. Next year, I hope. It’s set in France. I need a good title. Any ideas anyone?

You're clearly a big fan of Twitter.  What benefits does it bring you as an author?
Ben: It’s a fantastic tool for authors, I think, because it allows you direct access to your readers. Normally authors meet readers at book signings. That’s a slightly intimidating atmosphere where the author sits at a table in a bookshop and signs. It’s a little hierarchical. You’re sort of setting yourself apart just by being there with your pen poised. On twitter everyone’s equal. People are much more free with their thoughts. There’s no barrier. My favourite book growing up was Catcher in the Rye. In it the main character Holden Caulfied,l a hero of mine as kid, rues the fact that he can’t call up say F Scott Fitzgerald, I think it is, and tell him what great book he’s written. Now you can do that on twitter. Holden Caulfield would definitively have been on twitter.

Finally, I have to ask.  Is your wife really that scared of those creatures that shall remain nameless?

Ben: She is indeed. If anything, as every year goes by she is worse. The other day I was going to follow back someone on twitter. Their twitpic was of three tortoises. Dinah wouldn’t let me follow them back in case she looked over my shoulder and saw the picture. I tried to explain to the person why I couldn’t follow them back. They didn’t understand. The person thought I was crazy and blocked me. Cheloniaphobia. Fear of all tortoises and things that like tortoises ie turtles. If we go anywhere risky – zoos, safari parks, butterfly farms are particular bad – I have to guide her through enclosures while she holds a brochure up to the side of her face I’ve earmarked as the “tortoisey one.” The kids all know about it and warn her if ever they see one. “Mum, close your eyes. My hold out your hand.” I blame my wife for all the strange fears my kids have. My daughter was scared of the moon and steam for a long time and my son until recently was scared of all manikins particularly, for some reason, Victorian ones. He would fasten himself to my leg like a shin-pad whenever he saw one.

Massive thanks to Ben for taking the time to answer my questions, but mostly for writing such a fantastic book.  

EDIT: This competition is now closed and the winner has been notified.

If you'd like to win a copy of the book, simply leave a comment below saying why you'd like to read it.  For an additional entry please tweet "I'm entering @missielizzieb's blog competition to win a copy of Ben Hatch's Are we Nearly There Yet http://bit.ly/wLt65E".  Please leave an additional comment to say you've tweeted and remember to leave a method of contact.

The winner will be chosen at random after 5pm on 06 February 2012.

This is not a sponsored post, all views expressed are my own and the prize is supplied by myself.

Add Bio Oil to your daily routine

I'm sure most of us mums will be familiar with Bio Oil - it seems to be the universally recognised cure for stretch marks.  I know I used it during and post pregnancy and never seemed to be afflicted with stretch marks, and I've also used it successfully on a scar.

However, I'd never really thought of it as an everyday beauty product, more something to use as a drastic repair!  When I was contacted and asked if I'd like to try some for general use, I was intrigued.

I was sent some suggestions of other uses for the oil - I have to say I'd never thought of using it to soften cuticles or hard skin.  There's so many ways in which Bio Oil can benefit your skin.  Take a look.

Now, don't laugh.  I thought I'd put it to the test on my butt.  By pure chance I read something recently about the condition Keratosis Pilaris - or 'Chicken Skin'.  It was a revelation to me.  I've suffered from this bumpy skin for as long as I can remember, and I never knew it had a name!  It started in my teens and just affected my buttocks - no big deal, they're not exactly on display.  But as I've got older its slowly crept down to the backs of my thighs as far as the back of my knees, and also on the backs of my upper arms.  Whilst it's reassuring to discover that 40% of adults suffer from this (I'm not as much of a freak as I thought) it's not great to hear there's no real cure for it.  Its does affect my everyday life.  You'll almost never see me in a skirt, and certainly not with bare legs.  I hate to go swimming, and if I do I wear a swimsuit with shorts legs.

So, nothing ventured, nothing gained, I started applying Bio Oil daily to these areas.  Don't panic, there aren't any before and after shots of my backside coming.

If you've not used it before, then let me talk a bit about the oil.  It has a lovely light scent (that'll be the calendula; lavender, chamomile and rosemary oil).  Although it's an oil, it's not greasy. I apply it after a shower and then get dressed - I've not had any problems with it getting on my clothes (I might be a bit more careful if I was wearing something delicate like silk though!).

A little goes a long way too.  I've been using a 60ml bottle which retails at around £8.95 (you can purchase from all good chemists and cosmetic departments) for 10 days and I've used about 1/10th of the bottle.

So, after 10 days, I asked the old man to do the touch test.  Well, after feeling my butt and my thighs, he gave me his verdict.  Whilst flattering after nearly 9 years together, most of his remarks were unprintable.  When I asked him for a sensible opinion that I could write, he said there was a 'radical and remarkable difference'.  After telling him "not now dear, I'm in the middle of a blog post", I have to agree.

Both the visual appearance and the texture of my skin is massively improved.  No longer does it feel like I have permanent goose-bumps, but my skin feels smooth and soft for the first time in years.  Normal moisturiser simply isn't this effective.  I'm so pleased with the improvement, and will continue this routine.

I've also used the Bio Oil as an 'emergency repair' for dry, chapped skin on my face and lips after being out in the cold  wintry wind, and I've been sneaking up at night to pop a little dab on Ruby's chicken pox scar on her nose.  Is that wrong?  Well, I know when I reached my teens, I HATE my chicken pox scar on my face.

So there you have it.  Huge thumbs up for Bio Oil from me and my butt.

How do you use yours?

Disclosure: I was sent a bottle of Bio Oil free of charge for the purposes of this review.  However, all opinions are my own and are honest and accurate.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Papier-mâché Magnets

I was searching my brain trying to think up something we could make for Daddy for Valentine's Day.  I spotted some heart shaped silicone moulds in Poundland and an idea was born!  You can pick up all sorts of different shaped silicone moulds in discount stores such as Ikea, pound shops and Wilkinson's.  Ice cube trays and small cake cases work well.

You'll need:

Silicone moulds
Paint & brushes
Magnets (I bought a cheap set from Wilkinson's and prised them out of their uninspiring casing)

Mix up a paste of one part white plain flour to two parts water.  You can add a squeeze of PVA glue if you like, but it's not necessary.

Tear the newspaper into small pieces.  The smaller the better.

Dip pieces of paper into the paste and squeeze out the excess.  This is a VERY messy job, and Ruby didn't quite get the squeezing off the excess part! I found what worked best was to use some gloopy pieces, then add dry to soak up the excess.  Keep building up the layers, pressing down firmly every now and again to compress and make sure you're filling every part of the mould.

I found this quite cathartic, and carried on doing it long after Ruby had gone to bed!

In hindsight, it may have been better to do this in two stages - half filling then allowing to dry out overnight, before continuing, but I'm not known for my patience!

Find a nice warm spot for them to dry out, like near a radiator.  Ours took 2 days to fully dry.

Carefully peel back the mould and pop your shape out.  If it's still a bit wet at the bottom, you can re-shape any bits that have come loose and leave to dry for a bit longer.

Paint with your favourite colours.  You'll need several coats and I was surprised how well Ruby did at this craft.  There's a lot of processes and waiting time, but she was happy to do a bit, leave it and come back to it.

Ruby used poster paints for hers, and I used gold acrylic on mine for more grown up magnets for my study!

When you're happy with the amount of coats of paint, and they're fully dry, glue a magnet onto the back.  You'll need to use strong glue like superglue or a glue gun.

Stand back and admire your work, and use them to leave soppy love notes to each other.

Linking up with Red Ted Art. and White Lily Green.

Inspire Me Beautiful

Loose yourself in the Land Of Sometimes

Every now and again, something comes along which is quite simply, perfect.  The Land of Sometimes CD is just that.  You'll forgive my effusing about it, but I honestly can't find a single criticism of it.  I want every child and parent to enjoy this magical journey.

Young twins, Alfie and Elise wander off in their imaginations to the Land Of Sometimes, encountering fantastical characters along the way.  Each character has their own story which is told in song.  Each style is different from the last, some upbeat poppy tunes, others tranquil soothing melodies.

Ruby's favourite is Little Twink, an up tempo disco song about a cheeky naughty fairy who messes up bedrooms while you're asleep - don't we all have one of them?

My favourite is either the very first song "dare make a wish" or the sublimely brilliant "Mrs Blip", a belter of a song, it's soul but with a hint of the east and sung my none other than Ruby Turner.

In fact, the credentials of this production are immense.  The words, lyrics and original concept are by Francesca Longrigg, an accomplished actress, musician and singer.  The producer Chicky Reeves has worked with talent as diverse as Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Radiohead.

The narrator Nicholas Jones has a gentle but commanding voice, and the storytelling seamlessly joins the songs together coherently.  The narration is minimal, so there's no danger of boredom, and equally the music can be enjoyed in it's own right.  If for example you have it on in the background as we do when we're baking or crafting at home, you can dip in and out of it.  But played in the car or at bedtime, we're totally entranced.

Even the artwork on the packaging is enticing.  The cover itself moves away from the traditional plastic type, and instead is a book which can be viewed to enhance the story.  The website is one of the best I've seen for children in a long time.  You can listen to clips of the songs, download the lyrics so you can sing along, explore the map of the Land of Sometimes, learn more about the characters and use their fun activity section.

Due for release on 6th February 2012 priced at £8.99 you can pre-order with Amazon here now.

I implore you, if you buy one music CD for your kids this year, make it this one.  I only wish it was out now, I know a pair of twins with a birthday coming up who would adore this!

Disclosure: I was sent a preview copy of this CD for the purposes of this review free of charge.  However, the views and opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Monday 23 January 2012

What will uDraw?

Some time ago I wrote about the uDraw tablet for Wii.

Since then, I'm very pleased to say we've now joined the 21st century, and thanks to my brother, we have a Wii - hooray.  Not only that, but the lovely people at the world of uDraw, sent us a tablet to play with.  The tablet comes complete with uDraw studio instant artist, which is full of great features.

It took Ruby a little while to get the hang of, but being more computer literate that her Mummy, she soon sussed it and was quickly scribbling away.  Her artistic skills at aged 3 and a half aren't exactly developed, but I can see her getting more and more use out of the features and functions as she grows.  I also think it's going to be great to help her practise her writing and letters.  It's a mess free way of creating masses and masses of art, and sharing it with others.

The tablet is sturdy and robust and the stylus chunky enough for even little hands to master.  Ruby has great fun 'painting' on different 'surfaces' like cardboard, paper, chalkboard etc with different effects and techniques - you can even create 'graffiti' on a concrete background! ("Graffiti's naughty Mummy").

I tried to get some photos of her creating, but she kept throwing an artistic wobbly because I was disturbing her concentration!!

Artist at work

Take a look at the online gallery to see some of the amazing creations that are possible with the uDraw.

I have to say, that as a left-hander I found it slightly difficult to use.  The stylus can be used to draw with either the left or right hand, but the Wii remote contoller docks on the left hand side of the tablet, so I found myself crossing my hands over so I could draw with my left hand and press menu keys with my right.  The righties in my house had no trouble though. Also, we don't have the slimline Wii remote, so although ours works fine, it didn't slot in neatly as it's supposed to.

We were also sent a copy of Pictionary which was ace.  I love the traditional Pictionary game anyway, and this seemed more fun using the tablet than pen and paper.  The game suits my basic stick man style of drawing, and I'm pretty good at Pictionary.  I can see this becoming a firm favourite when we have friends round.

The uDraw tablet is available online and in store from all good games retailers.

Disclosure: We were sent a uDraw tablet and games to try for the purposes of this review.  However, no financial reward was paid and any views expressed are my own and are honest.

Magpie Monday - cushioning the blow

There's a car boot sale that runs every Sunday approximately 10 minutes walk from my house.  I'd never yet managed to haul my sorry ass out of bed before 10am at the weekend - given the choice of a lie-in in a warm bed and walking around stalls in the freezing cold, my bed will win every time.

However, this weekend I was up in time, so I pootled off down the road, enjoying some time to myself.  The old man's farewell of "don't come home with tonnes of crap" and Ruby's plea of "bring me a present back" ringing in my ears.

It's an 'indoor' car boot sale, housed in a giant and dimly lit warehouse.  I'm informed at the door that this is the last week, so at least I know I won't have to get up next weekend.  There's a brazier outside, billowing out acrid smoke, so it feels more like I'm crossing a picket line than looking for bargains.

Inside there's lots of stalls over overpriced, rusty old 'antique' tools and several people selling off their entire collections of porcelain shoes.  Inexplicably there's also a stall which seems to be selling nothing but pack of pot noodles.

Amongst the filthy tat, I manage to find a stall selling lots of sewing ephemera, and pick up a couple of wooden cotton reels to add to my collection and a card with miniature mother of pearl buttons which will be prefect for some craft or other.

She also sells me a vintage pair of pinking shears for £3.  My current pinking shears are totally blunt and after asking around it appears they can't be re-sharpened and a decent new pair will cost me £40 minimum.

On the next stall I spot this beautiful old handmade cushion for £2.  The tassels are a bit ratty and I expect will soon be having an appointment with my scissors, but apart from that I love it.  Even the old man agrees I did well.

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Thursday 19 January 2012

Baking Day

We get two whole days a week where it's just me and Ruby. It's 'our special weekend'.  Just us, nobody else.

Today the weather was miserable, and we'd had a busy day yesterday, so we declared it 'Baking Day'. Hurrah!

Ruby was very keen to make some olive bread.  I have to admit that whilst I do make bread at home, I tend to use the bread maker.  But there's not exactly much toddler participation opportunity in that is there?

So, here's the ingredients:

275g strong white flour
50g wholemeal flour
6g sachet of easy yeast
1/2 tsp salt (I left this out)
210ml lukewarm water
1tbsp olive oil
115g black olives

Weigh out the dry ingredients and add to a bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the warm water and oil.

Next, bring the dough together then turn out onto a floured surface (that's a LIGHTLY floured surface Ruby!).  Knead for about 10 minutes.  This was hard work so we took it in turns, but she did perfect the technique.

Next she oiled the bowl with some olive oil on a piece of kitchen roll, and we popped the dough in to rise. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for an hour to double in size.

Ruby got a bit bored - an hour is ages in Toddler time, so we used the lull to make some blueberry muffins - read on for that.

She was thrilled to see how much the dough had risen and that the yeast had done it's job.

We removed the dough, 'knocked it back' - which to Ruby meant punch it!

Next, to chop the olives.  Because we were using olives from a jar, we strained off first and patted dry with kitchen towel.

For the first time ever, I allowed Ruby to use a sharp knife and do the cutting.  I think my being a bit more chilled out and giving her more responsibility allowed us to have a much better time in the kitchen today.

We flattened out the dough, sprinkled on the chopped olives before rolling it up and kneading to distribute them throughout the bread.

Then, oil a baking sheet, shape the dough into an oval and place it on the tray.  Mark some deep cuts on the top, then cover with cling film and leave again for 30 mins - yawn.

Finally, pop into oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 35 minutes.

Whilst all that waiting and baking was going on, I knocked up a lasagna and Ruby helped grate (eat) the Parmesan.

So, that's main course taken care of.  Pudding? Oh yes, the mini blueberry muffins.  Here's what you need:

100g blueberries (I used a jar)
50g caster sugar
50g butter
150g self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
75ml milk

We put everything except the blueberries into a bowl and whisked!  Again, the first time I've let her use the electric mixer on her own - without me clinging onto either the bowl or the mixer!  She was fine.

Then we stirred in the blueberries carefully.  Spoon the mixture into mini muffin tins/cases.  Tip: leave one empty so it's easier to get a grip and remove from the oven!

Bake for 30 minutes at 160 degrees Celsius.

Our final flourish was to use the juice from the jar of blueberries in a cream.

We mixed two large tablespoons of soft cheese with two tablespoons of double cream, the juice and two tablespoons of icing sugar to make purple cream!

That was dinner complete!  I have to say, for once Ruby ate EVERYTHING on her plate AND sat down for the entire meal - a miracle.

Pudding was a triumph too.  Daddy has now declared every Thursday 'Baking Day'!

What have I learnt?  Less stress = more fun.

I'm linking this up with Red Ted Art who are running a kid's cookery contest with Appliances online and this is my entry to Appliances Online Messy Kids Cooking Competition with Baby Budgeting.  Go check them out!